As Breanna Kaho, a twenty-two year old rider of twelve years mounts her horse, Shadow, her heart begins to beat faster and faster. Today is the day that the pair of them are to compete for the first place blue ribbon in their Show Jumping competition. Shadow’s skin twitches in anticipation and Kaho takes one last moment to remember the course. As the bell rings, Kaho nudges Shadow forward with her leg and the pair of them enters the arena. Although this is not the pair’s first competition, horse and rider still feel the excitement, exhilaration, and adrenaline rush as if it were their first.
Show Jumping (also known as Hunter Jumper in some parts of the world) is a sport that tests a horse and rider’s style, agility, grace, and teamwork. The pair must work together to hurtle themselves over obstacles (fences) that can be anywhere from one foot to six and a half feet high. In order to accomplish this sometimes tricky goal, the horse and rider must be trained, prepared, and synchronized.
On an average day at the stable, Kaho starts her day with her routine of keeping up a physical and mental connection with Shadow. Not only do the two of them train on the jumping course, but they bond in the stalls. When she arrives she brushes Shadow’s coat until he shines giving him pats and treats as well. She then sets up a jumping course in the arena that will test her and Shadow’s skills on which they train for an hour a day. They spend half an hour working on ground work (trotting, cantering, signal training, and communication) and the next half hour jumping.
In the arena there are many things to consider while riding. Kaho is in charge of the mental calculations and the thinking when it comes to speed, strides between jumps (horse and rider must only take a certain number of strides between each jump, which are determined in the rules of each specific competition (USEF Rule book), and her sitting position on her horse. Shadow takes care of the rest.
There are many other things that Kaho must consider when in competition. The basic rules of competition apply as far as the order in which the jumps are to be completed and the time limit in which the horse and rider must complete the course. The Omaha International Foundation list the way completion is scored on their website.
Competition is point based, meaning that a horse and rider are given points when penalties or faults occur on the course. There are two types of penalties: Time faults and four faults. Time faults occur when the horse and rider exceed the amount of time they are given to complete the course whereas four faults can be a number of things such as if a horse refuses a jump or knocks down a rail. Disqualification occurs when a horse refuses a jump a second time or when a rider is thrown or falls.
When asked, Kaho says, “The hardest part for me during Show Jumping is not getting in Shadow’s way. I tend to try to be picky as far as when to start jumping, but in reality, Shadow is able to do it all on his own. The only reason we would mess up during a competition is when I get in his way.” Not only is the competition very difficult, it is also very rewarding. The feeling of flying over the jump and being awarded a medal or ribbon for their efforts is one of the most wonderful parts of the competition and riding in general.
At her Level B competition, Kaho has come away with eight blue first prize ribbons and many group competition prizes when she competed with the United States Pony Club. She is proud of her accomplishments and hopes to continue to compete, raising her competition level. The highest level of competition any rider can accomplish is to be able to ride in the Olympics. The completion and training in the Olympics is unrivaled and takes someone truly dedicated to the sport and their horse. In fact, horses and riders compete equally in the Olympics on all plains as far as race, ethnicity, and riding skill.
When asked what the most important thing to be able to be a top competitor in Show Jumping is, Kaho replied, “It’s all about the connection with your horse. When riding, you are in physical and mental connection with your horse the entire time. You’re anticipating his moves while he is reading yours. Without both connections, you cannot be a successful rider, let alone a successful competitor.” Over her many years of training and riding, Kaho has come to learn this valuable lesson and hopes that through her riding and competing she can someday reach Olympic level.
Show Jumping, even though it is an Olympic sport now, was not always considered a sport. In reality, it is a relatively new sport. In the 18th century the idea of riding horses for sport instead of a mode of transportation came to be. The Official Website of British Show Jumping reveals that the start of Show Jumping came about because of The Enclosure Act in Italy. This Act allowed land owners to put up fences around their land to prevent unwanted trespassers. But this caused a problem. Now to be able to cut their transportation time in half, riders now had to jump fences. Out of this, the sport of Show Jumping was born.
Over the years the type of equipment that is used during competition has changed very much. Kaho comments that “your horse and equipment make all the difference during your riding.” Kaho makes sure to spend time and pay careful attention when it comes to taking care of her tack. When equipment is not take care of properly, leather can become cracked and wear over time, eventually leading to replacing it, which can be very expensive.
Not only is horseback riding one of the most exhilarating sports out there, but it is also one of the most expensive. Equine.com does a great job of explaining how costly it can be to own a horse. On average it costs as much as $800 a month to keep a horse (not including the cost of the purchase of the animal or the equipment, competition fees, and riding lessons/trainer fees). That $800 is split up between boarding the animal, feeding, medicating, shoeing, and whatever vet bills come up. It’s not easy being a horse owner and rider!
But why all the popularity? What is it about horseback riding, Show Jumping specifically, that is so appealing to riders and horse lovers alike? Maybe it’s a way for a person to get outdoors and experience nature from the perspective of these majestic animals. Maybe it’s the way it feels to balance yourself as an animal moves beneath you, hearing the crunch of hooves on gravel or soft earth. Or maybe it is the overwhelming feeling of freedom. When riding a horse, for the time being, you are removed from reality and all that exists is you, your horse, and the path ahead. For Kaho the answer is simple: “There is nothing like a bond between a human and horse. With Shadow, I am with my best friend; my child. He knows my emotions and can tell how to behave around me depending on my moods. There is nothing I want to do more than ride and be around my horse. He and my riding means everything to me.”